PART FIVE: FLIGHT ECONOMICS – BOOSTING BIG IN JUST 20 KNOTS
Lewis Crathern continues his series of technique features that are fully focused on the various elements that can help you jump bigger. Clearly it’s easy to go large in high winds, so this issue we tested his skills in running you through ways of getting more height in more regular wind speed,
Can you really go big in 20 knots? I’ve been in deep thought but now I believe that yes, you can! Let’s break it down. What does going big really mean? Big = ‘of considerable size, extent or intensity’.
I competed on the IKA Big Air tour this year and the riders have to translate their interpretation of the moves that they feel best cover ‘big air’. Is a big kite loop handle-pass considered a big move if it’s half the height of a big board-off? What about a kite loop front roll? Is it worth more ‘big air’ points than a high handle-pass that you completed at a greater altitude than the kite loop?
These are just some of the things that run through your mind when approaching a big air event that will run in less than 25 knots. It seems fairly obvious that the stronger the wind the higher you will go, and it’s not by chance that the top three spots on the WOO Sports leaderboard (Nick, Aaron and Kevin) were all scored in 35+ knot winds. It’s also interesting to note the surfaces that those jumps took place in – with cross shore winds and perfect kickers to take-off from.
When we boost off the waves, not only do we have a force that assists our ‘loading up’ technique (the direction, smooth surface, shape and speed of the wave), but we also take-off having less friction with the water. We can time our jump so that the main point of lift comes just after we leave the wave. A good way to think of this is to imagine a skateboarder getting air out of a half pipe. At the point that he/she leaves the half pipe they are weightless.
Of course we are not always blessed with perfect waves to take-off from. In most cases the best we can hope for is a good piece of chop. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: avoid simply taking-off from anywhere. There is always an optimum place to take-off. Kitesurf racers are especially skilled at locating areas on the water where the wind might increase, or even slightly change direction. As boosters we should also become as diligent in our awareness as being able to spot these details means we can use them to our advantage.
However these are all relatively minor variables when considering the impact that the shape and size of the kite has. I’ve learned that first hand this year. I have been a C-kite guy ever since I started kiting and never imagined I would fly anything else, but this year I tried my hand with the Rebel and Evo. I now ride these kites 80% of the time as I’ve found that the lift and airborn acceleration that a hybrid kite offers is unmatched in the bigger sizes. I’m yet to do a proper test of the smaller sizes in strong winds, but in bigger sizes (ten metres and above) I can definitely say I go higher on the hybrids. The high-aspect design flies further forward in the window which translates into a greater vertical lift when sheeting in. With the Rebel I especially love the direct feel as it has no bridals – something that I’m used to with C-kites.
Now the really important part: kite Size. The difference between a 12 metre and an 11 is quite incredible. Last season I flew the Rebel in the 12 and ten metre sizes. This year I’m flying the 11 and nine to explore the differences and I’m amazed how much I’ve felt. Take the 12 for example; it may have a better low end and may well produce better jumps in 18 knots of wind, but the 11 has a way better high end. I can take it out in up to 25 knots (and beyond if required) and because there is less drag (less kite are) it performs way better at going big. I was recently discussing with another rider how nice it would be if we could have every size in one metre increments, but he disagreed and argued that it would make our choices so much harder! Which is true I guess! Knowing what we want to really achieve in our sessions can however help us to decide what we need in our quiver. At the moment, my preflight checklist is as follows for going as high as possible (not thinking about wakestyle or anything else):
Light Wind (roughly 13 – 19 knots): 15m hybrid
Medium Wind (roughly 19 – 27 knots): 11m hybrid
Gale Force (28 knots +): 9 – 7m hybrid or C
It’s important to note for that for most brands, kites are not designed as one shape and then simply duplicated in the appropriate size. They are designed relative to their size and the different forces that act upon them, so it’s important to think about the conditions you’ll really be riding in.
I haven’t mentioned line length yet, but I would recommend 22 – 24 metres as being good lengths in order to go big in moderate wind. Any shorter and you lack distance for the kite to travel when you send it through the top of the window (generating less kinetic energy). Any longer and the handling speed starts reducing, which is required to send the kite quickly through the window.
In terms of bar sizes, as a basic rule that I’ve found that I like to use the wider settings (49cm) for nine metre kites and bigger, and when flying eight metre kites and smaller, I like the 42cm.
BEFORE SENDING THE KITE:
There’s no denying that when the wind is stronger it seems to take less accurate flying technique to be able to go high. There’s so much energy on tap in the kite that it becomes easier to line board, body and kite up for the perfect take-off.
The real skill when the wind is just 20 knots is developing the ability to align the kite, body and board up in the best position BEFORE you send the kite.
When ready to boost with the kite at around 45 degrees, learn to wait for the gusts which allow you to move the kite further forward in the window. These gusts also help you keep your board speed up while you push away on the bar to position the kite. It can also help to come off your edge ever so slightly (bearing off) to further help position yourself under the kite. These techniques are ever more important when trying to boost in light wind. Sending the kite from a poor position in the window (deeper – with the kite sitting further back) results in a very downwind travelling jump and can even stall the kite. I keep harping on about positioning the kite high above you, but the fact is that the higher the kite gets, the more vertical lift it will give you.
SENDING THE KITE:
I’ve recently come to realise that the terms ‘edging hard’ while ‘sending the kite’ may be misleading. Aside from any terminology, what you should be trying to do is edge in such a way that you are ‘directing’ your board as far upwind as possible while achieving optimum board speed. Imagine you’re riding in 40 knots of wind and trying desperately to slow down; that is called edging hard. You present as much of the board’s edge into the water as possible in an attempt to slow down by fighting the pull of the kite – but this isn’t what we want for jumping.
So everything feels good with the kite at 45 and the kite flying nicely forward in the window. This is when you should send it. While pulling firmly on the bar with your back hand, increase the board’s angle into the wind without losing speed. It’s important to sheet the bar in to a point where you’re engaging the steering lines efficiently (so you can send it hard through 12 o’clock) whilst also maintaining some centre line tension (so you can apply a nice edge with the kite still pulling forward in the window). Remember to fully sheet the bar in after the nose of the board has left the water. (If we were a plane taking-off, we would sheet in once the plane’s nose lifts off the tarmac.)
AND SOMETHING ELSE TO THINK ABOUT:
There are rare times when kiteboarding that the wind does extremely strange things. Most often it’s in mountainous terrain, but can happen on the open ocean. As a passionate booster these ‘strange’ moments are the golden ticket to that ‘boost of the year’. If you get that feeling that the kite is extremely far forward in the window but pulling super hard, don’t miss your opportunity send it as soon as you can! It’s this upward lifting wind that results in incredible hangtime.
Going big in 20 knots is all about efficiency and considering the conditions you have present. After all 20 knots in Brazil can feel very different to 20 knots in Iceland. Cape Town 20 knots is a much denser wind entirely, offering vastly different boosting potential. There is a reason that kite brands are now producing some kites in one metre size increments; to give you the best possible chance to choose the right kite size to fit your style of riding. When you demo a kite, why not try one size lower and one size higher than you’d usually use? Also consider a different shape of kite and try that other model of kite in the same size. Don’t be afraid of exploring your options.
Competing in this big air discipline has definitely helped motivate me to look harder for that extra half a metre in height. Is there a major difference between competing and general riding when it comes to going big? Not really. We’re all still sharing the same goal of going as big as possible as easily as we can!
ALL PHOTOS > Alexandru Baranescu / IKA World Championships (Pingtan, China)
This feature appeared in Issue #84 of Kiteworld, Subscribe now for six issues a year of the original international kitesurfing magazine, rooted at the heart of the sport, and never miss a thing.